Drug Use Changes the Addict’s Brain

In the early stages of drug use, the individual may continue to maintain relationships, hold on to his job and not suffer any significant health issues. This makes him or her to think that he is still in control. 

He thinks that since he has ‘decided’ to use drugs, he can anytime ‘decide’ to stop. He will be convinced that his drug use is manageable. 

Unfortunately, this is not true. The collective experience of alcoholics and drug addicts points toward a different consequence. And for this it’s the brain chemistry that holds the key. 

Addiction - a Complex Disease

Addiction is a complex disease and its effects on the individual are significant. Will power alone is not enough to stop using drugs. Addiction involves multiple factors, including genetics, biology, and environmental issues.

Drug Addicts Brain

Just as there is no single identifiable reason that causes addiction, there is no simple “quick fix” solution for it. The most effective addiction treatment programs are eclectic - addressing all areas of the addict's life - physica, social, emotional, behaviourial and spiritual.

Drug Use Rewires the Addict’s Brain

Every time an addict uses a drug (or alcohol), his or her brain gets affected. It becomes dysfunctional and the addict likes the feeling (of getting ‘high’). Initially, the changes may appear small and temporary, but over time the drug use can cause affect the addict’s overall thinking, behavior, interests and relationships. This is because the drug changes the brain’s chemistry. 

Whenever the addict ingests a drug, he or she is directly impacting the parts of the brain that are closely associated with pleasure and motivation, especially the dopamine transmitter. This changes the pleasure triggers and shifts priorities – the activities that used to give pleasure (like spending time with loved ones or playing a sport or indulging in a favorite cuisine) no longer appear enjoyable as they used to be. 

As addiction progresses, there is nothing that can give as much pleasure and excitement to the addict as using drugs. Drugs become the addict’s No. 1 priority in life.

Dopamine – The Pleasure Chemical

The reason the brain responds differently to daily activities is dopamine. This is a chemical in the brain that is directly linked to different behaviours such as motivation, pleasure and reward. All drugs (including alcohol) enhance dopamine levels in the pleasure and motivation pathways in the brain. For instance, cocaine use causes the connections between neurons in the nuclear accumbens – part of the brain’s reward pathway – to increase in size, number and strength. Smoking meth causes brain cells to dump increased quantities of dopamine into the brain’s reward pathways, leading to an intense, emotional surge. 

Re-Wiring of Addictive Brain

In short, addiction hijacks your brain, re-wiring not only your brain’s reward pathways, but also the pathways that are responsible for memory, decision-making, learning, and judgment. These changes can make certain behaviors “hard-wired” into the brain, including the repeated desire to continue drug abuse.

It is quite common for the addict to believe that he or she is still in control and can quit any time. However, the brain chemistry tells an entirely different story. Addition creeps in without the addict even realizing it. 

Addiction Treatment Helps

Drugs have an all-encompassing and long-lasting impact on the addict, including the brain. Even after stopping drug use, the brain changes persist, making it difficult to maintain abstinence. Will power alone doesn’t help much.

Since drugs have re-wired the brain’s reward pathways, it takes time for the brain to re-align priorities. A holistic treatment program helps in a gradual and overall re-setting of lifestyle, thinking, behaviour and emotional management. 

A 12 Step program, combined with CBT, Yoga, meditation and a structured lifestyle helps in re-wiring the brain and rebuilding the life of the addict. 

Hope Trust has vast experience with drug addiction treatment. From detox to relapse-prevention, the facility’s experienced and qualified therapists and medical staff help an addict regain balance in life.